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Thoughts on thinkers

Dr. Karl Marx

[Some notes I took a while ago. They may be kind of obvious, but I think it’s interesting to adopt something like Hegel’s perspective on himself and on other modern thinkers, and to use this to explain why they’ve resonated so much.]

Descartes had world-historical significance insofar as he was the most perfect manifestation of modernity’s impulse to reject the past and begin anew, in a rational and scientific way. Kant was significant inasmuch as he was the highest expression of the Enlightenment, which itself was the highest cultural expression of the characteristic spirit of modernity in its positive aspects, namely its valorization of individual creativity, inquiry, freedom, reason, science, anti-traditionalism, and humanitarianism. (Hitler personified its negative aspects, which are the negations of its positive ones: bureaucracy, centralization of power, suppression of individuality in the mass, hostility to inquiry and reason, cruelty and violence, and reaction against popular empowerment.) Hegel had world-historical significance inasmuch as he was the first, and alienated, expression of the characteristic self-consciousness of modernity, and of its historical sense. Marx had a dual significance insofar as he (1) un-alienated this self-consciousness and historical sense by turning it right-side-up (giving history a largely correct interpretation), and (2) gave highest expression to the movement for popular emancipation—most deeply, class emancipation—that has driven modernity upwards. Schopenhauer was a minor thinker who gave philosophical expression to the parochial and alienated self-consciousness—the Romantic self-justification—of one characteristic stratum of modern society, viz., its isolated, discontented, anti-mass-society, and self-intoxicated artists and intellectuals. Nietzsche and Freud were two expressions of mature modernity’s alienated preoccupation with (1) the irrational and destructive forces of the human personality, (2) the relativism of values and essential meaninglessness of life, and (3) the individual self itself, especially in its unconscious self-determination. Kierkegaard and Sartre (both arguably minor thinkers but of some world-historical significance) were two opposed but, in a sense, complementary expressions—one religious, one atheistic—of the modern self’s anxiety, its anguished anomie and freedom from external and internal controls. Chomsky is of universal significance in being the highest and most consistent personification of every Enlightenment value, and thus the ultimate model of how to live.

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